A landscaping company sprayed an insecticide on 55 linden trees in the parking lot of a Target big box store in the Oregon town of Wilsonville in the U.S. last Saturday to control for aphids. Within minutes, bumblebees began falling from the trees, twitching on their backs or wandering in tight circles on the asphalt. As this weekend approaches, estimates of the number of dead insects has risen to more than 50,000.

Wilsonville, Oregon, July 2013. (Photo: Oregonian)

The Oregon Department of Agriculture confirmed the bees were killed by an insecticide called Safari whose main ingredient is dinotefuran, belonging to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. There are two main kinds of neonicotinoids. Safari is a member of the nitro-group which research has shown to be generally  more toxic to bees than the other type.

This totally avoidable tragedy is simply another example of the myriad of unregulated poisons that continue to be applied to the earth by people who either don’t have a clue or simply don’t care–you would think a landscaping company would be particularly careful about the poisons they’re spraying. (Target’s concern was aphids dripping their bodily fluids on customers’ cars.)

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) collecting pollen. (Photo: Jon Sullivan)

Bees and other insects pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food crops but have suffered steep declines due to habitat loss, disease and pesticide use. In April, the European Union voted to enact a two-year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Where’s the U.S.? Absent as usual, concerned about stirring the wrath of the chemical industry.

A USDA survey found recently that nearly a third of managed honeybee colonies in America died out or disappeared over the last winter. But in attempting to pinpoint the cause of the bee dieoffs, the USDA has studiously avoided putting any emphasis on the potential role of pesticides.

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